A Day In the Life

Beth

Beth, one of our UnFinished kids, outside her home in the village.

Recently, I was upstairs in the office, working on about ten different projects at one time. I have been blessed to take my work home during this quarantine, and along with my dissertation, taking a course through the college that employs me to become certified to teach fully online, and running UnFinished. I’ve been busier than ever. Not to mention sharing the office with Christine as she too works from home and also on her various projects.

On this particular day, I was deep into dissertation work, when Christian, our five-year-old, came upstairs and crawled up into my lap. This is not an uncommon occurrence. He’s a bit of daddy’s boy. However, this time, as he wrapped his arms around my neck, he began to cry.

This is an uncommon occurrence. Christian prides himself on being pretty tough and being able to handle situations. He’s a five-year-old attempting to function on a 30-year-old’s operating system. (The WWE is not going to let cry babies main event Wrestlemania).

I asked him what was wrong and, letting the tears flow, he told me he missed his friends. He said he missed his friends from church, and he missed his friends from school. While I’ve tried to be cognizant of him being under quarantine as an only child, I’d not really thought about how hard it is on him. He’s an only child. I try to recognize that, and I play with him as much as my 46-year-old body will let me. We’ve let him FaceTime his cousins, my mother, my brother, and he’s had Zoom calls with his classmates and Sunday School meetings.

However, Christian, like his mother, is a social butterfly. He longs to be with his friends. He tells me almost every day that he wants to go back to church and school. While he does not let on very much, it became clear to me that day, this has been harder on him than I realized. I never thought about the fact that his mother and I can escape a little. We will make quick runs to H.E.B., the bank, the post office, and other places we simply have to go. However, other than walks around the neighborhood, Christian has not left the house in over a month.

This caused me to think – if being locked up in a nice home, with Netflix, Disney+, all the other streaming services, an iPad, PlayStation, and more toys than he should have, what is life really like for the children of UnFinished? I’ve been to their homes, I’ve seen what life is like for them. They live in mud huts with no internet, no T.V., no running water, and many – no electricity. How stressful and lonely must it be for them, already living with a disability, back home again, locked away after months or years of finding freedom through the support you’ve given them? It must be heartbreakingly sad.

We continue to do welfare checks on the kids. But much like we all do, the caregivers tell us they are “fine” and “doing well.” It’s been our mission to restore hope to our children and their families, and we find ourselves now dealing with the effects of the Coronavirus. I’m sure our kids are more ready than Christian to return to their schools, their friends, and once again escape life in the village.

Please continue to pray for our kids. Honestly, they are safer from COVID-19 deep in the village than they are pack into schools. It is also reassuring to know they all have medical insurance should the need arise.

So, please pray. Also, it has been amazing to see our child sponsor continue their faithful sponsorships. We still have ten children who need sponsors. We have committed to refrain from bringing on new children until all of our current kids have dedicated, reliable support in their endeavors. I can attest to the joy of being personally involved in the life of a child in UnFinished programs.

We have incredible potential for growth. We have a proven plan that works and produces results. If your church or business is looking to impact the world through a federal 501(c)3 program, we would love the chance to talk (at a socially respectable distance, of course).

Thank you for your continued love, prayers, and support.

Christianity: The Next Generation

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According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, religion is waning in America, including Christianity. The data shows that no age group is walking away from God than Millenials (data for Gen Z was not available). While more than three-quarters of Baby Boomers (76%)  describe themselves as Christians, only about half of Millennials (49%), do with four-in-ten identifying with no religious affiliation and one-in-ten Millennials naming non-Christian faiths as their belief system.

The report goes on to identify many reasons for the decline in religious affiliations by young Americans. While all of them are valid, vetted rationalizations for Millenials’ lack of faith in their parents’ dedication to the Christian faith, I feel the real problem is much simpler, yet far more dangerous.

We live in an “I want it now” time. To be fair, my generation, Generation X, kind of kicked off this mentality. We were the “microwave generation.” We were the first group of kids who could record our favorite shows and “fast-forward” the commercials. As the Latchkey Kids, we often found ourselves taking care of ourselves, which lead us to believe we were all that mattered. As time went on, this got worse. Now, our little brothers and sisters, the Millenials, are walking into middle age carrying the full brunt of the Internet, social media, and streaming.

Millennials grew up in the age of entertainment. Hundreds of cable channels, then streaming of TV, movies, and music, came to pass. Their need for instant gratification came as a product of entertainment evolution and younger Baby Boomers’ need for TV babysitters. As the world became more complicated, our parents, often single mothers, had to work more and be home far less frequently. This situation often led to guilt and a bit of spoiling on the younger child to make up as us Gen Xer were now old enough to ignore it all and do what we had always done – take care of ourselves.

What does all of this have to do with the decline of Christianity in America? I believe churches have attempted to take over the role of the parent for the Millennials in our current day. They look at the Millenials, and on to Gen Z, and see a crowd that needs to be entertained and reinforced with words of affirmation.  Attend any worship service in a church geared toward these age brackets, and you will most likely encounter strobe light shows, smoke machines, and high-energy entertainment. I am not at all saying these are in themselves bad things. I, too, enjoy a spirit-filled worship service. But is church really supposed to be about what I enjoy?

Once you move on to the message, it is more of the same. It has been years since I have heard a message on sin and its consequences. Church messages these days are all about how God wants to shower us with blessings – that having God in your life means prosperity and well-being. A quick search of the scriptures shows that most of the greats in the Hall of Faith did not experience a comfortable life. However, pastors in fear of congregates, or boards, feeling offended, will sidestep the hard messages for feel-good inspiration. I once sat in a service where the pastor paused before reading a section of scripture to apologize for what he was about to read in the case it offended anyone. “I don’t know what you believe, and I’m not trying to offend anyone. I’m just reading the words as they are written,” he said.

So, people sit in these church services and hear messages about how much God wants to bless them, and nothing can go wrong in their lives as long as they tithe and believe. Then, tragedy strikes. They lose their job, the one they love leaves, a parent dies, or a pandemic occurs. Some horrible things happen, they are not spiritually prepared to handle, and they bounce. They’ve been told all their life that God wants nothing but to bless them, that God is basically a vending machine to bend to their will, and they find themselves in a situation that does not line up with what they’ve been taught.

The enemy is prime to jump all over this situation. He begins to whisper in their ear, “See, God is not real. If God were real, He would not have allowed this to happen. If God loved you, He would fill your wallet. He would give you that job. He would have saved the one you love.” They have not been adequately prepared to understand that a life of belief is often a life of hardship. When the touchy-feely sermons don’t match up with the reality that is life, it comes off weak and fake, and people cast it aside.

None of this is to say that God is not loving, hates to see us suffer, or wants to see us suffer. He is none of those things. However, more times than not, our decisions get us into situations that are less than ideal. There are consequences attached to the actions and decisions we make. There are also ramifications from the actions and decisions of others that we have nothing to do with. This is a part of life. We are currently experiencing a pandemic. I’ve seen post after post on social media about this being a punishment from God. That is not how He works.

We now have an entire generation of people who have not been prepared spiritually to deal with misfortune, bad situations, and attacks from the enemy. I mean, churches do not even teach about an enemy, spiritual attacks, or spiritual warfare anymore. How can we expect the younger generations to believe in, much less stick with, a faith they are inadequately prepared to understand?

So, what is the answer? Barna group cites a need for churches to focus on “vocational discipleship.” One where faith and occupation are integrated. I feel this is an essential step for all Christians, as too many are prepared to defend and support their beliefs at work. However, I think it is more important to get younger generations plugged into churches that are preaching messages that need to be taught, and not only ones people want to hear.

I work in the college environment, and I can tell you most college students are ill-prepared to handle the stress that happens in life. This coronavirus has only revealed this fact to me more. I have students who are scared and looking for answers. While I cannot in my current capacity evangelize to them, I can be like Christ to them in my attempts to lead them through the rest of the semester. There is a need for messages that give us hope and let us know that God will be there through the hard times. But they need to be tempered with messages to prepare them for those hard times when they occur.

This does not only apply to younger people. Spiritual warfare is real, and we need to be prepared to fight for our family, friends, and souls when the time comes. These are perilous times we currently live in, and outreach to college, prison, homeless, and other vulnerable people should begin and continue with life application messages and not just the ones that will fill the seats and the collection plate.

Your Nonprofit Should Mean Business

In my time walking with one foot in the business world and the other in the nonprofit environment, I’ve seen a few things. My experience and education in business and nonprofit leadership has shown me some repeated problems in many nonprofits I’ve studied. While nothing is ever as simple as a black and white list of principles (I’m looking at you, business world) I’ve noticed some trends over the years that cause nonprofits, in particular, small ones, to struggle. This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I’ve put together what I’ve seen as the primary offenders if you will.

Lack of Understanding

A common thread through many nonprofit organizations is lack of comprehension regarding the fact that while their mission and methods may differ from the business world, they are indeed a business. Too many times, those who lead, operate, and volunteer for a nonprofit organization get so caught up in either the idea of “nonprofitness,” or so mission-focused, they either lack the ability or refuse to understand the fact they are also a business. This mindset sets up many of the other problems on this list – not realizing that operating not for profit does not mean working outside of core business principles. Without a grasp on this concept, nonprofit boards and executive leadership teams look for and hire the wrong people for the job.

This is especially true for Christian nonprofit organizations. These types of organizations many times not only lack the understanding to see the business side of the industry, but they also latch onto this idea that they are a “church.” Many Christian nonprofit organizations are founded either from within a church or by well-meaning, mission-minded Christians. They then set out to run the organization as if it is a church. While churches also need a business focus (that is another discussion) running a church is not the same as running a business. To be successful, nonprofit organizations have to run themselves in much the same manner as any other for-profit business.

Lack of a Strong Leader

The lack of business understanding often, but not always, leads to this problem. Too often, when nonprofit organizations on are the search for a leader, they are looking in the wrong places. Most of the time, the primary concern centers around fundraising. Organization boards and leadership are looking for the person who can bring in the most money. There are many problems with this, but we will only look at a few.

First, let’s address the rebuttal. Yes, a nonprofit organization needs to hire a leader that can get in front of individuals and groups and convince them to give money. That is a vital component of the job. However, the problem I’ve seen in my time within the nonprofit environment is not money, its leadership. Too many nonprofit organizations are worried about hiring someone who can fundraise when fundraising is not their problem. I’ve seen nonprofit organizations that have full-time, professional fundraisers on staff bringing in more than enough money. However, the inner workings of the organization are all over the place. The organization is not growing, there is too much drama between the staff/volunteers, the programs are outdated or ineffective, or the mission just needs to be more focused.

In these cases, fundraising is not the problem. I personally know of nonprofit organizations bringing in plenty of money, but their use of that money is anything but efficient. The problem is not cash flow. The problem is the person at the top. Too often, nonprofit boards and leadership look over people who have not worked in the nonprofit field or lacks “adequate” fundraising experience because they’ve spent their careers in for-profit businesses. Often, this is the exact person those organizations need. They need someone who can come in and straighten out messes, put out fires, balance budgets, better allocate funding, and exercise strong leadership.

This situation is many times exponentially worse, again, in a Christian nonprofit organization. These organizations often take and even further step. I’ve seen too many times Christian nonprofit organizations looking for an Executive Director and INSIST this person must be a pastor. Required qualifications often look like, “a seminary degree and fifteen years in the pulpit.” I am not here to speak ill of pastors. However, pastors are called to do one thing, pastor. I try not to stereotype anyone, but few full-time pastors make excellent businessmen. That is not to say there are none, but they are rare. If you look at any thriving large church, you will almost always find an executive of some type running the operations side of the church.

Pastors are called to shepherd. I can give you real-life examples of nonprofit organizations that have gone under almost solely on the fact that they refused to hire someone who was not a pastor. There are more than enough Christian business people in the world who can lead businesses. In my retail days, I knew a lot of managers who would only hire people with retail experience. They did not want to add the extra work of training people on cash registers and such. This was a mistake. When I hired, I looked for someone who was a good fit on our team, could fill the role I had vacant and could move the mission of the organization. I could train a monkey to run the cash register (from the systems I often had it would seem as they were designed by monkeys so getting them to run them didn’t seem too much of a stretch) Secular and religious organizations alike need to get out of this cookie-cutter leadership mindset.

Lack of a Strong Foundation

Most nonprofit organizations start off small – it’s the nature, and the beauty, of the beast. An individual or small group of people see a wrong in the world, and they set out to right it. Many times, none of them have any experience in the nonprofit, or even business, environments. Sometimes, none of them even  possess any business experience. However, they get together and decide, “You’re going to be the Executive Director, you can be the Business Manager, you can handle communications,” so forth and so on. You have a group of friends on fire to change the world and its awesome.

However, this strange thing happens – the organization takes off. Before you know it, this ragtag group of friends has a significantly sized and thriving organization on their hands. However, that same group of friends who were having fun and figuring things out, now find themselves working for an up and coming business in roles they are not qualified to hold. They don’t know anything about finance, or budgeting, or planning, or implementation of strategic goals. This is a big problem. But the more significant issue is they don’t know that they don’t know. So, instead of hiring people with experience in these areas, they trudge along. When they do need to hire someone, they look for individuals who will meet friendship goals instead of those that can help develop and push the mission to the next level. There is not a clear understanding as to what is required in the roles, and qualified business-minded people are passed over. This becomes particularly problematic when new leadership is needed due to people moving on.

Lack of Accountability

All of the above issues lead into this one and, again, Christian nonprofits are the main offenders. Let me start off by saying holding people accountable is tough, especially firing people, and that’s what I am talking about here. While they are so many levels of accountability or should be, before firing, for brevity’s sake, I am cutting to the chase. That being said, most people I know, including myself, who have spent time in the business world hate doing it. Sure, people like to act all tough and tell horror stories about making people cry and kicking people out, but inside, they hate it (or they should). I get more worked up inside waiting for that person coming to the office to be fired than they do, I promise you. However, it has to be, must be, done.

Do any sort of Google search on the topic, and you will find article after article on the necessity of firing people. I don’t need to rehash that here. However, too many nonprofit organizations, and for-profits ones also if we are going to be completely honest, fail in this area. It flows from what we’ve looked at above – weak leadership, the “friendship factor,” and just a general lack of business principles within the organization, particularly the leadership.

Now, I’ve always said that I have never fired anyone. Individuals have decided to terminate their tenure with the organization due to their actions or inactions. However, when push comes to shove, someone has to have the gumption to pull the trigger. That is not to say one needs to be cold, or mean, or rude. I’ve always tried to send someone out the door as gracefully and respectfully as I would want to be sent walking. But the fact is, too many nonprofit organizations, by their nature of heart and help, don’t believe in letting people go.

Again, when you get into the Christian nonprofit world, it’s worse. Not only do you have that caring and loving nature of the nonprofit environment in general, but you also have the issues of grace and forgiveness. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for grace, mercy, and forgiveness. No one on earth needs both more than me. However, Jesus was also all about accountability, tough love, and flipping tables when they needed to be flipped. When looking for leadership, nonprofits need someone who can fundraise, but also internally handle the best interest of the organization and the team when that time comes.

It is necessary for the leadership, the Executive Director in particular, of a nonprofit to understand that while it is crucial to have a passion for the heart and mission of the organization, it is just as vital to operate under the leadership and principals that drive successful for-profit businesses. Missing this will cost you at the least growth and at the most your organization as a whole. These two are not opposed to each other, but like a good marriage, bring the best of each to a successful and organic unit.

Maybe she’s born with it – but probably not…

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy

I know you’re looking at this thinking, “Another discussion about whether a person is born with leadership skills or can they learn it? Hasn’t this been discussed enough? Why should I read this…again?” I would counter with yes, it has been argued to the point of exhaustion, however, with each experience we learn new ways of looking at situations and discover different ways to discuss them.

As said, this has been covered, and there are views on either side. However, when one peruses the literature on the topic, it is not difficult to see it leans one way. Most people interviewed on the subject assume that leaders are born. These people believe that some enter into the world possessing a natural ability to lead, and all others do not. Further, they think that there is not really much you can do for those who are not born with it.

Truth be told, most studies on the subject over the years show there really is more of a bell curve on leadership capability. Some people indeed are “born with it.” Others, on the other side of the curve, are just not going to lead the troops into battle. However, the majority of the people out there fall somewhere in the middle, and that’s where the potential lies.

There was one point in my career I lost nearly my entire management staff. We were going into a busy season, and I had to fill those positions quickly. Additionally, my part-time pool to pull from was made up of fresh faces who barely knew how to do the essential functions of the job. Having no other choice, I consulted with my assistant, and we made the hard decisions of whom we would bring onto the management staff.

We felt both of these ladies had the potential to work well as leaders within the business. One from experience in the educational system, and the other from her attitude and willingness to jump in where needed. What we found were two completely different views on what it meant to take on a leadership position.

The individual we had the most hopes for due to her background in education turned out to be the bigger surprise. While we had high expectations for her ability, we were mistaken. This person was a fantastic employee in a lesser role. She was great with customers, helped her younger co-workers, and worked hard on day-to-day tasks – all the reasons we promoted her. However, once put in a leadership role, all of that seemed to end.

She maintained a great relationship with the others, continued to help customers, but show little to no interest in advancing. Any occasion we used as an attempt to teach her thinks left us frustrated. As soon as we began teaching, she tried to cut us off, “Yep, uh-huh, got it,” whatever she could do to move on. It has taken her time to get past a lot of mistakes, but she has gotten to a point where she can function as a minimal manager.

This is in stark contrast to the other individual we promoted. She is a young woman with no managerial experience. We knew this going in, but we saw something in her we thought we could work with. While she struggled with the operational aspects more and had no understanding of how to lead the team, she was and continues to be, teachable. She asks questions, looks for advice, watches what her leaders do, and genuinely cares about those she has been entrusted to lead.

This individual possesses two of the many traits required in leadership learning – the ability to adapt, and the desire to grow and learn. While I cannot deny there are those who are born with skills relevant to leadership, I also believe much of what is needed to lead others can be learned. Even those born with these traits can benefit from being teachable. I know I have, and this is what makes her a benefit to the team.

When we begin our search for members of our leadership teams, we have to look past credentials. Of the two we promoted, one seemed much more apt to perform in the new position than the other. However, what we found was heart was worth much more than experience. When hiring or promoting, we have to remember that the best person for the job is not necessarily the right person for the job. People, born leaders or not, will lead when they are empowered to do so. How they lead will be determined by how much time you invest in molding their leadership. This includes spending in their correction. We as leaders must have the managerial courage to mentor not only the ones with pedigree but those who maybe don’t even believe in themselves.